Industry Profile: Tim Gillespie

A Voice for Rail in Washington

For our second industry profile, RSI turned to a public affairs expert with decades of experience in Washington, DC, both on Capitol Hill and with passenger rail and technology issues: Tim Gillespie, Washington Representative for Alstom Transportation and Partner, BGL Associates.

Tim came to Washington for graduate school after receiving his Political Science degree from the University of Scranton, his hometown. He started his career working on Capitol Hill as a legislative staff member for then-U.S. Representative John Heinz of Pennsylvania. Due to the demands of working on the Hill, Gillespie never finished his graduate degree, instead gaining invaluable experience serving with Heinz through three terms in the House of Representatives.  Tim left his staff position in the House to join the Heinz Senate campaign and then went to the Senate in 1977 for a brief stint with Senator Heinz.

Tim joined Amtrak’s Government Affairs Office in 1980 and rose to Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, holding that position until 1998. After leaving Amtrak, he founded the government affairs firm BGL Associates with former Federal Railroad Administrator and AAR Vice President and General Counsel Bob Blanchette, former American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association President Bill Loftus (Blanchette passed away in 2000 and Loftus in 2004).

Tim has been representing Alstom’s rail interests in Washington since 1998.

Below is a Q and A with Tim Gillespie.

RSI:  How did you get first begin working on rail issues? TG: I’ve worked with rail-related issues my entire career, starting as a hill staffer with John Heinz. He served on what at the time was known as the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee, with jurisdiction over railroads. The congressman assigned me to handle railroad issues, and I needed to quickly become the staff railroad expert. I was already steeped in railroad legislative policy when I joined Amtrak’s Government Affairs Office in 1979. When I left Amtrak to help form BGL Associates, representing Alstom was a natural next step.

RSI: You are an expert on policy issues. How do policy decisions made in Washington affect railway supply companies? TG: Investment in the Acela has resulted in additional revenues for Amtrak and further investment in high speed equipment will enhance their revenue picture even more.  Additional investment in high speed rail could result in significant additional business for the supply industry.

Another illustration of legislative policy and the impact on the supply industry came about in the aftermath of the tragic Chase, MD Amtrak/Conrail crash in 1987.  That accident brought into question the validity of indemnification agreements that have been the standard between Amtrak and the Class I railroads.  It also raised a question as to whether publicly supported passenger operations (like Amtrak and transit) could afford unlimited liability. We worked on a legislative provision that caps liability at $200 million per incident and allows parties to enter into agreements allocating financial responsibility for claims. Our friends in the supply industry helped to ensure supply companies would be protected under the cap, and this language became part of the 1997 Amtrak Authorization.

RSI: Public transit and commuter services in the U.S. have been expanding in recent years. Do you see this trend continuing? TG: I do see the trend continuing, both in the statistics on public transit and Amtrak ridership and on a personal level. My son, for instance, lives in Maryland and commutes into DC, but like many others of his generation, he is averse to driving in Washington traffic and prefers to take the Metro. Studies are showing that this is the trend for young professionals of his generation. Transit also is supported by public policy, with a dedicated funding source in the Highway Trust Fund.

RSI: What about high speed rail? What is the outlook? TG: The Administration and former Secretary LaHood have been very supportive of high speed rail, which has stirred much interest. It remains to be seen whether high speed rail initiatives will continue under the current budget climate in Washington. Everyone in the supply industry should be pushing for a policy that encourages the development of high speed rail because it’s good for business. Although not yet confirmed, Secretary designate Foxx is also a strong supporter of High Speed Rail.

RSI:  Positive Train Control (PTC) has been under development in response to legislation. Is Alstom involved with this technology? TG: Yes, to some extent. Alstom’s ACSES II PTC Solution received the Federal Railroad Administration’s first type approval for U.S. Service. It’s the only PTC solution now in revenue service, on the Northeast Corridor.

RSI:  Tell us about your involvement with industry associations like RSI during your career. TG: In my work for Alstom, I chaired RSI’s Passenger Committee for about six years. I was a proponent of a different approach to railroad infrastructure financing issues, and, as Chairman of that committee, testified on this subject on behalf of RSI at a June 2003 hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Railroad Subcommittee (see page 53).

We developed a tax credit bond proposal on behalf of RSI that year, and tried to attach it to the same legislation that created tax incentives for short line railroads in the Ways and Means Committee. We also testified before the Ways and Means Committee. 

RSI: What makes the Railway Supply Institute unique among railroad industry trade organizations? TG: The strength of RSI, because it represents a large portion of the rail supply industry, is its ability to speak with one voice about common issues of importance. RSI’s successful track record of advocacy for the rail supply industry makes it a known – and trusted – advocacy organization among transportation policy groups in Washington.

RSI: How long have you been involved with Railroad Day on the Hill? TG:  I have participated over the last 15 years on behalf of Alstom. Railroad Day is a good way for the people who represent rail supply companies to come in from around the country and see how the legislative process works, talk with their members of congress and their staff, and make their voices heard.

RSI: What’s your take on the outlook for the rail supply industry going forward? TG: The railway supply industry’s future is intertwined with the futures of the passenger and freight rail industries. Right now the future of the high speed rail movement in the U.S. is a bit uncertain.  Amtrak continues to get criticism from policymakers; Congress underfunds it and then complains that they’re not doing what they should be doing. But our passenger rail system is a model for other countries. For example, the Northeast Corridor is one of the busiest in the world, with 2,000 trains a day. Amtrak doesn’t get enough credit for how well that corridor operates.

Freight railroads have a very positive outlook – they are growing, as is the demand for commuter operations. Overall, I think the railroad industry has a lot going for it because of its contribution toward reducing carbon emissions and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil; highway and airport congestion; and improving transportation safety. These are all very positive things that make the rail industry strong and demonstrate what investing in rail – and rail supply companies – can do for America.

By Carol P. Steckbeck, RSI Communications Consultant